When nonalcoholic beers and wines merit an enthusiastic thumbs up from a confirmed imbiber, you know the maker is doing things right. That’s what happened when nonalcoholic beverage producer Grüvi came up in a recent conversation: Both drinkers and teetotalers ended up gushing about the brand’s brews and bubbles. A repeated lament, though? “I wish Grüvi was in more restaurants.”
As it turns out, consumers can find the Denver-based brand in 100 to 150 bars and restaurants in Colorado, says founder and CEO Niki Sawni. That’s out of the approximately 500 liquor and grocery stores, bars, and restaurants in the state that carry one of Grüvi’s four beers (IPA, stout, pale ale, and sour Berlinerweisse-style brew) or two sparkling wines (a Prosecco-style white and a rosé).
For a company that’s not even three years old, Grüvi’s seen a lot of change. “We started selling at liquor stores and farmers’ markets originally,” says Sawni. “About two years ago, bars and restaurants were a very hard sell for n/a beers and especially wines. But it’s become significantly easier over the last two years. Operators are much more open to having that conversation.”
What changed? You probably don’t need three guesses to answer (but raise a glass of Grüvi’s best-selling Dry Secco and toast to yourself if you said COVID.) Sawni believes an increasing focus on health due to the pandemic is driving demand for booze-free beverages. He also credits media coverage of the n/a trend. “[Restaurant owners] will say, ‘I heard that’s a thing now. I heard that’s popular,’” he notes. “It’s a more general awareness.” The numbers bear that out: Grüvi more than doubled its Colorado distribution in stores and hospitality establishments in the last two years.
A challenge Sawni has faced getting his product onto Colorado wine lists in particular is menu placement. “Some restaurants are progressive and have a nonalcoholic a part of menu, so we can fit it there. If they only have a wine list, they don’t want to put Grüvi in the middle of the wine list. Or you put it next to Topo [Chico], where that’s $3 and ours is $9. People are skeptical about whether it will sell or not.”
To combat that reluctance, Grüvi gives out product to hesitant operators and bar managers for a trial run on their menu. “It’s been a huge unlock for us,” Sawni says. “We say, ‘Here, have half a case,’ and eight of 10 of those come back as sales for us. That is one of the advantages of being an n/a product. If it’s alcoholic, that’s illegal.” He encourages businesses to contact Grüvi if they’re interested in taking advantage of the offer. (And no, even if you do mix up zero proof drinks like a pro, your kitchen does not count as a bar.)
Grüvi continues to push the boundaries of nonalcoholic drinks with upcoming releases: a draft n/a beer (the nation’s first, Sawni attests) and a red wine blend.
The draft beer is slated for widespread launch in January 2022. “I don’t know how that’s going to be received,” he admits. “That’s going to be interesting because bars are going to have to replace one of their alcoholic taps with Grüvi. But I’m excited for the consumer. To get a draft beer is so much more appealing than getting a dusty bottle.” Currently, eagle-eyed consumers can find the product at the Golden Mill’s self-serve beer wall in Golden. “It’s selling at about ⅛ the amount of Coors Light,” laughs Sawni. “I don’t know what everyone else thinks of that amount, but I am super stoked about it.”
The red wine blend will be available in single-serving cans. “That one uses new tech,” Sawni says. “We’re taking a California alcoholic red wine, removing the alcohol, and then using food science to build it back up. We add oak extract, tannins, raspberries, and different acids to build up the body.” The juice will ring in at 0.0 percent ABV, with no trace amounts of alcohol.
Sawni is optimistic about Grüvi’s momentum as it continues to move into hospitality spaces. “I feel like there’s a little bit of a boulder effect,” he says. “Once [operators] see other bars and restaurants have an n/a option, that boulder will really go flying down the hill.”
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